By Chris Day
CNHI News Service
MIDWEST CITY —
The U.S. House will approve a farm bill this year, Rep. Frank Lucas said Saturday.
The bill will be debated on the House floor Wednesday and Thursday and will pass after 30 to 60 amendments are considered.
“It’s farm bill, farm bill, farm bill for me these days,” said Lucas, R-Okla., at a congressional question-and-answer session with journalists from across the state at the Oklahoma Press Association’s annual conference. Lucas is chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture.
The House bill saves about $40 billion. The cuts probably will be deeper if an amended bill wins approval.
The House agriculture committee cut $6 billion with an immediate 10-year sequestration. It consolidated or cut more than 100 programs, which includes paring 23 conservation programs to 13.
“It’s about a 36 percent reduction in the programs that actually raise your food,” Lucas said.
It also contains the first reforms to nutrition programs since 1996.
The bill eliminates categorical eligibility — automatic eligibility for food stamps if a person qualifies for any other federal welfare benefit.
“We say ‘No you have to apply. You have to demonstrate your income and your assets.’ If you qualify, we will help you, but no more automatic food stamps,” Lucas said.
The Senate passed its version of the farm bill earlier this month.
It expands crop insurance while eliminating the $5 billion annual subsidy called direct payments. It also creates a crop insurance program for dairy producers, eliminating other dairy subsidies and price supports. The policy includes a market stabilization program that dictates production cuts when an oversupply drives prices down.
The Senate bill saves about $4.5 billion in food assistance program and $20 billion in farm program cuts.
The Senate bill saves money, but the savings are misleading, U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn said. The farm bill lasts five years, while the majority of the savings in the Senate bill comes after five years.
“It’s more Washington black magic,” the Oklahoma Republican said. “The other large portion of the savings has to do with the sequester. In essence, net-net over 10 years, the farm bill saves $2 billion, not $20 billion. It’s the same old smoke and mirrors coming out of Washington.”
It is going to be difficult, Lucas said, to close the savings gap between the Senate and House bills.
Senate cuts reach $24.5 billion, while the House’s are $40 billion or more.
“That’s a rather substantial set of numbers to try and reconcile,” Lucas said. “The nutrition stuff might require the powers that be on top of the mountains to intervene. The bottom line is this: I want to either have a farm bill or be able for my wheat farmers to know at the first of September what it’s going to look like when they sow. That rarely happens.”
CHRIS DAY is a reporter for the Stillwater NewsPress.